Resourceful Records Managers: Krista Oldham, University Archivist at Clemson University

The amazing Krista Oldham answers our records management focused questions!

Krista Oldham photo

What led you to choose your current career in Records Management?

I don’t want to say that I necessarily stumbled into records management as I think that archives and records management practice and theory are related and feed so much into each other, but I somewhat did. In my training as an archivist I had been exposed and knew records management theory, but records management was not part of my job responsibilities until I took the position at Haverford College as both the College Archivist and Records Manager. When I took the job I really was not expecting records management to appeal to me as much as it did. I was pleasantly surprised.

What is your educational background?

I earned both a B.A. and M.A. in History from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. I was enrolled in the Ph.D. program in History and after I wrapped up a good bit of my coursework, I came to the realization that I did not enjoy it anymore, that the career path to become a professor no longer interested me, and that I really loved working in the archives. At that point I think I had been working at the University of Arkansas Special Collections, first as a reading room assistant and then as an assistant archivist, for about six or seven years and decided that being an archivist was where my passion was and so I enrolled at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville where I got my M.I.S.

How did you first become interested in Records Management?

I first became truly interested in records management once I was thrown in to the deep-end of the process at Haverford. Having to develop and implement a institution-wide program forced me to become familiar with records management pretty quickly regardless if I was really truly interested or not. Through that process I began to really appreciate records management and realized that records management and archives are in many ways two sides of the same coin. Additionally, I discovered that there are structure and rules to records management that I really appreciate.

What is your role at your institution?

I am currently the University Archivist at Clemson University in South Carolina. In this role I provide leadership and expertise in the appraisal, acquisition, processing/descriptions, and the preservation of University records as well as supporting and promoting their use. I am also responsible for assisting in the development and administration of an institution-wide records management program.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I most enjoy the educational component that comes with being a records manager. I thrive on empowering people through knowledge dissemination, and the training component that is essential to the successful implementation of a records management program allows me to do that. As an educator at heart, I find it very satisfying when I see people in our workshops or consultations get excited and talk about how they are going to take what they learned back to their office or department and that they know we are a resource for them. It puts a smile on my face.

What would you consider to be your career highlight or greatest success?

I would say that my greatest career achievement to date has been developing and implementing a records management program at Haverford College. I was the college’s very first records manager and I had to do a lot of preliminary work on raising the profile of records management at the college. I created an advisory group, developed policy and procedure documentation, conducted training and outreach, and collaborated on building out a web presence for records management. I was very fortunate to have multiple collaborators who were incredibly supportive during that process. Without their help and support none of it would have been successful. I have to admit that the records management program was not as far along as I would have liked it to have been, but I feel accomplished in the progress that was made and I know it was in a good place for my successor to make it into a great program.

What type of institutional settings have you worked in? Corporate? Government? Higher education? If more than one, how do they differ?

I have always worked at higher ed institutions- two research universities and one liberal arts college. All three have had very different environments and cultures. What has been consistent is the strong curricular tie/role that my position has been able to play in support of the institutions’ mission.

What advice would you give to an individual considering Records Management as a career?

Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Having your practice rooted in theory is necessary, but all the theory in the world will not prepare you the same way that actual experience doing records management will. My other piece of advice is don’t be afraid or intimidated to ask questions. I am a strong believer in the premise that we as professionals do not have to know everything and we shouldn’t be expected to. The field changes so rapidly, and the environments/institutions and stakeholders so varied, it can be hard to keep up with, and be an expert on, everything. Just know that you are able to tap into networks of other professionals, and are able to draw on the breadth and depth of their collective knowledge. We are a collegial bunch and are here to help!

Do you belong to any professional organizations?

I do! Probably too many. I have been a member of the Society of American Archivists and ARMA the longest…years at this point. I am also a member of South Carolina Archival Association, Palmetto Archives, Libraries, & Museum Council on Preservation, and South Carolina Public Records Association (SCPRA). Additionally, I am a member representative for Clemson to the National Digital Stewardship Association.

Thoughts on the future of records management?

Opportunities abound! I think there is some really exciting things to come/continue to develop with artificial intelligence. Additionally, I think there opportunities for records managers to be able to assert their importance and elevate the role of records management at their instructions/organizations as more and more those places are reimagining what sorts of information (records, and data) are assets that have value that they want to capitalize on.

What do you perceive as the biggest challenges in the Records Management field?

I think the handling of born-digital records and digital preservation is and will continue to be a challenge for many records managers for some time. I also think that there will be some challenges that arise as more and more institutions embrace sustainable digital preservation practices.

Besides focusing on work, what are some of your other interests or hobbies?

I am an active shopper (mainly clothes and shoes), an avid consumer of reality TV, and a budding knitter.

Do you have a quote you live by?

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” – Voltaire (I think…)



Archivists and Records Managers, part 10

Charles M. Dollar worked as the electronic records program manager for NARA from 1974-1994, and during this time, he delivered a number of lectures and papers that coalesced into an article published in the Fall 1993 issue of Archivaria entitled “Archivists and Records Managers in the Information Age.”  He put forward the simple argument that handling electronic records should force archivists and records managers to remember their common concerns — specifically, “records integrity, records disposition, and records accessibility” — and work together to create answers to the twists and turns electronic records created in their fields.  He identified the necessity of baking records appraisal and disposition into IT applications so that obsolete and irrelevant records are not migrated to new systems.  He concluded with a challenge for archivists and records managers not only to work together but also to expand their reach:

“It is not enough that archivists and records managers agree upon a joint agenda and talk about it.  There must also be aggressive activities that carry archivists and records managers into the main stream of the information management community.”

Archivists and Records Managers, part 9

Jay Atherton was a long-time archivist at the Public Archives of Canada.  In the Winter 1985-86 issue of Archivaria, he published “From Life Cycle to Continuum: Some Thoughts on the Records Management – Archives Relationship.”  Atherton emphasized the necessity of cooperative work between records managers and archivists to accomplish certain goals:

“- ensure the creation of the right records, containing the right information, in the right format;
– organize the records and analyze their content and significance to facilitate their availability;
– make them available promptly to those (administrators and researchers
alike) who have a right and a requirement to see them;
– systematically dispose of records that are no longer required; and
– protect and preserve the information for as long as it may be needed (if
necessary, forever).”

He concluded, “A symbiotic relationship between an archivist and a records manager should facilitate the achievement of these ends.  The intellectual training and historical perspective of the archivist will enrich the practical, immediate concerns of the records manager.  And the records manager’s knowledge of his institution, as well as his concern for efficiency, practicality, and immediate service, will help the archivist to perform his responsibilities.  Working as a team within the records management-archives continuum, they will ensure that their ultimate goals – administrative and cultural – are achieved.”

Archives*RM Testimonial #6

This testimonial about the intersections of archives and records management comes from Lori Eaton, Archivist at Found Archives, LLC.

At a meeting of foundation archivists in June 2019, Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, spoke about the value he found in the margin notes past presidents had made on letters, reports, board materials and other documents preserved in the foundation’s archives. His comment has nagged me ever since.

I work as a consulting archivist helping foundation staff who are charged with managing how their organization is administered. Though they may have different job titles, these are typically the folks who create and update records management policies and retention schedules (or bring me in to help them with these tasks). In contemporary foundations, this means working with born-digital records.

Thanks to Mr. Walker’s comment, I’ve been keeping an eye out for the “margin notes” in digital systems. They’re photos of white board notes captured after a pivotal meeting and saved in a project folder, they’re comments in Google docs, they’re in the conversations that happen within project management tools like Asana or Basecamp.

How do I, with my records management hat on, ensure that these margin notes are represented without opening the flood gates to a plethora of non-records or duplication? How do I, with my archives hat on, ensure that the narrow stream of records preserved in the archives includes critical commentary and strategic thinking by key staff?

Knowing where to look for these digital margin notes, means that I must not only understand the kind of work my clients do, but also how they go about doing it. It also requires a generous definition of what constitutes a record with archival value.

Archives*RM Testimonial #5

This testimonial about the intersections of archives and records management comes from Elizabeth McGorty, Archivist & Records Manager for Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation.

I serve as Archivist & Records Manager for the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation (BNYDC) which manages the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The Yard was once a federal ship repair facility on the Brooklyn waterfront owned and operated by the US Navy. During WWII it was the largest industrial complex in New York state – a 300-acre facility employing 70,000 civilian workers repairing over 1,000 ships. In 1967 the site was purchased by the City of New York and was transformed into an industrial park. There are now over 300 tenant businesses in the sectors of manufacturing, design, and art.

I like to think of the Yard as a site with two lives, and this is certainly present in our special collections – comprising personal effects of former welders, carpenters, and electricians, and our flagship collection(s) which comprise architectural and engineering drawings of the site – nearly 3,000 linear feet in extent. The collection of drawings created by the Bureau of Yards and Docks (construction arm of the US Navy) date as early as 1806, when military residences were built, but also contain drawings of substations, railroad tracks, shops, and production utility buildings. The other collection of drawings is contemporary, all commissioned by BNYDC for maintenance repair, renovation, and development projects, dating from the 1970s.

Architectural drawings are considered both a corporate record (as defined by our policies) and material of archival value. Thus, it requires arrangement, description, digitization, and ingest into our DAM/public facing digital library at the item level. Item level processing was predicated on user value – recalling boxes of project records currently in retention does not serve staff, nor the needs of external consultants and contractors who need specific drawings for repair and tenant fit-out projects that occur after the construction project is completed. Project records are a series in the schedule, but the drawings from those projects are accessioned into the two aforementioned collections.

Managing our corporate records (two types with the same name: corporate records deemed permanent, AND records of the corporation in temporary retention) has helped me as archivist committed to, among other things, preserving BNYDC’s corporate legacy. It’s easy to see the intersection of RM and Archives because they are both functions of a singular process: the life cycle of information, and I see this in practice every day.

Archivists and Records Managers, part 8

In 2005, two people working in Records and Archives at the World Health Organisation — Ineke Deserno and Donna Kynaston — had this to say about the intersection of records management and archival work:

“A records management program is indispensable for an archives program.  It ensures

  • the identification of records of long-term historical value and their orderly transfer to the archives
  • the regular, orderly elimination of large amounts of records that have no long-term value beyond their administrative usefulness
  • efficiency and economy in the management of the archives program by facilitating planning regarding space, records description, and records preservation”

They go on to explain,

“Effective records management programs ensure that records of permanent value that are transferred to the custody of an archives program in a regular, orderly fashion will be more readily accessible for reference use and will provide more reliable information for future users.  An effective records management program also ensures that records of no enduring value are not transferred to the archives simply as a means of disposing of them.”

[from “A Records Management Program that Works for Archives,” Information Management Journal (May/June 2005): 60-62]

Archivists and Records Managers, part 7

In his presidential address at the 1965 SAA annual meeting, W. Kaye Lamb spoke about “The Changing Role of the Archivist.”  He spoke at length about the importance of good records management, including this praise:

“Our debt to the records managers is very great, in at least two respects. In the first place, it is they who are bringing order out of chaos in the handling of official papers and who have made possible the systematic retirement of files from which archival collections have benefited immensely. If we look about us and note the archival institutions in which the collections of official records are sparse or almost nonexistent, we find almost invariably that those institutions are in States or Provinces where there is no adequate records management program. Adequate selection and preservation are byproducts of good records management. . . . In the second place, the records managers have been of great assistance in establishing the vital point that adequate archival and records services have practical value and can make it possible for a government to function both more efficiently and more cheaply. The old conception of the archives as being nothing more than a haven for antiquarians is passing. Officials and scholars alike are becoming accustomed to the fact that people in our searchrooms are as likely to be using records and papers only a few years—or even a few months—old as those dating back a century or more. A better appreciation of what the archives can offer has resulted in more generous financial support—a change we owe, in many instances, to the work of the records managers.”